Wading Deep Waters
As an adoptee, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get “home.” I was adopted into a wonderful family whom I worshipped with my whole heart and who gave me everything a child, any child, but especially a child like me, could need. I knew I was loved but more than that, I knew they valued me. The only problem was that I knew I was different from them all—different talents, different looks. As vivid as my imagination is, when I thought of my birth parents, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to conceptualize them at all. It was like peering into a deep, dark vast, empty space. Nothing was there. As a result, I felt like an island. Destined to forever be the only one of me.
This lack of knowledge about my own personal history and loss of an ancestral connection was a fraught situation for me. On the one hand, the desire to know is only natural but for an adoptee, it created a double bind that kept me from being authentic. Somewhere, deep inside, I felt a sense of loss resulting from my adoption and over parents I never met, which in turn, made me feel terribly guilty, so I tried to bury those feelings. Also, I didn’t want to be perceived as ungrateful to my adopted family, which only served to redouble my greater fear of abandonment. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt them.
Couple all of that with the negative attitudes in society about adoption at the time and the fact that kids at school judged, pitied, ridiculed or bullied me about my being adopted…well, the shame was almost unbearable. During my teenage years, I really began to search for my identity, for what made me uniquely me. Over time, my search for my own identity has resulted in the knowledge that I love making art and music and gardening. I love being outside and riding horses. I’m generally happy, easy going and am slow to anger. I have a tender heart and compassion for others and though I love learning and was a good student, I am terrible at math.
When I had my first child, the bond I felt with him was instantaneous. I felt a sense of belonging to that wee little boy like I never had before. Still, as time went by, that niggling feeling of needing to know persisted and led me to search for my birth mother.
Once I found her and even my birth father, I found a lot of people who looked like me, they even sounded and laughed like me, had similar attributes and talents. These discoveries were like a miracle to me and helped provide a sense of closure. Things that were once sad and forlorn question marks were now just simple periods.
Even though finding my birth mother helped me in all the obvious laying-to-rest-the-mystery-of-me and understanding myself better, there was still a tension after reuniting with her. Interestingly, though we had so much in common and we did share a bond, she was a stranger to me. Her ways, her smell, her attitudes, so many things. Though she was biologically my mother, I still didn’t feel like I belonged in her world. I’d lived for 26 years with someone else as Mother, in her world. So, now, I had to make sense of the role of adoption in my life and the struggle to understand who I was, continued.
Then there was the difficulty and conflict I felt in prioritizing my adoptive family over my birth family. I would not forfeit holidays with the family I’d grown up with and besides, I was my mom’s only child…I’d be a part of my other family’s celebrations as I could, which became an increasing sore spot for my birth mother, who accused me of “kicking her to the curb.” I found it very hard to manage two family relationships and even harder to be a dutiful daughter to two mothers.
In time, hard feelings like these caused an inevitable rift between me and by birth family and served to teach me the greatest lesson of all: that “family” is what you make of it. It is a shared history and experiences with people you cherish and who’ve known you your whole life. Just because your blood types are the same, in the end, if all you have in common is DNA that just isn’t enough.
So, again, I was an island. Except for my children and Allen. Through the years, it was my children that gave me that desperately longed-for sense of belonging that has never wavered. Still, when your birth mother has waged a jihad against you within her own family, the cruel irony is soul crushing. The coup de grâce came when my mom died this past Labor Day.
My best friend and warrior-advocate was gone from me forever.
When the news came to me just a month and a half later, on October 22, that I had a 100% match on my non-maternal X chromosome, resulting in a half-sister, I hardly knew what to think.To digress briefly, last summer, my friend Rose, who is a genealogy maven, helped me to administer a cheek swab test on my mom as she languished after her stroke, before it was too late. We also did the spit test on me. I was excited to see how far back she’d be able to trace my ancestry and just what exactly, it would reveal my origins to be. I never dreamed, in the hunt for dead people, she’d find a living, breathing sister.
When Rose called to tell me the news, we talked for two hours as she set the stage and told me how it had all come to be and a bit about who this sister, Mary Stuart, was. Among many wonderful things about her, she was in the middle of an online genealogy course given by Boston University, honing her impressive skills at that sort of research. Oh, and also? There were two more siblings! Another half-sister and a half-brother, about whom little was known as he hadn’t checked in to the ancestry site in some time. I was completely gob-smacked at all of this news. Not surprisingly, as I knew all too well from having known him for 30 years, our shared birth father was baaaaad news. In the course of one year alone, he’d fathered three children to three different women. In all, there are five of us who were born out of wedlock.
Right from the first moment I spoke to Mary, I knew she was a kindred spirit. Most everything she said resonated with me. I quickly realized we seemed to share many character traits. She was thoughtful, reasonable, self-contained and grounded among a million other things. Mary was a newly discovered treasure.
Despite everything I’d been through with other birth family, I trusted her almost instantly. The only reason for saying “almost” is because it took a minute or two for the shock to wear off.
As I was deep into my Ballymaloe Cookery School experience, ensconced deep in the-middle-of-nowhere, Cork, Ireland and wouldn’t be home until December 27th, meeting Mary anytime soon wasn’t an option. So, as WiFi signals permitted, we resigned ourselves to building our foundation via email, Facebook messenger and the occasional WhatsApp calls. Each time we communicated, we learned of some new commonality and our bond strengthened.
One mid-December morning, after we’d finished our cookery school course and were in Galway, I woke up to a WhatsApp message from Mary proclaiming, “There’s another one of us! Another sister!” She’d gotten a notification of yet another non-maternal X chromosome match. That means our father sired 10 children, as far as we know. Something tells me, there will be more.
Around this time too, the brother she’d identified, Kent, began responding to emails (turns out, he’d unsubscribed to the site because they were inundating him with emails and didn’t know he had some hits) and he and Mary quickly connected on the phone to hear each other’s stories. Also, Mary spoke with our newest sister, Jeannie and they swapped histories. Having an ocean separating us, I couldn’t wait to get home to connect with them too.
Mary had made reservations to come and see me on her way to a genealogy conference in Salt Lake City in January. The timing was perfect, because I was well past my considerable jet lag when she arrived. The week before her arrival, our brother, Kent, messaged me and said he’d like to come to Dallas to meet me and the day that worked best for him was the day Mary was due in. Perfect! The three of us would be in the same place at the same time. His arrival was early in the day a week ago and he arrived with two dozen roses and a dozen tulips. We had a wonderful day together, quizzing each other on how we felt about this or that and swapping family stories and sharing photos of our children. He has two beautiful daughters. My nieces.
Before Mary’s plane was due in, we went to the airport together. The joy I felt deep in my soul was beyond description. Throughout the day, Kent had shown himself to be someone I knew I could love and wanted to know better. Allen said he was a “Prince of a guy” and liked him instantly. There I was, waiting for a sister I’d never met but whom I was already in love with, standing beside a brand new, adorable brother. I can tell you, I’ve seldom been in a similar situation and it felt so good.
During the week that Mary was here, our bond only strengthened and the sense of belonging that always seemed so elusive to me, was now firmly in my grip. Given our own considerable natural genetic similarities/inheritances from our father, I realized that our shared experiences as adoptees also bound us together.
Through the years, in my urgent hunger to connect and “belong” I’ve felt like I was walking with one hand outstretched to the world---open, receptive---while the other hand was pressed against my heart---guarded and reserved---where the cut of the latest wound healed.
Mary is the sister every little girl dreams of. She’s steady, constant and her love is unwavering, just as the smile on her face is. She’s talented and smart as hell, listens intently to every word you say, remembers every little thing you’ve ever told her and tucks it away for later when she can surprise you with something thoughtful. She fit right in here, with all of us, immediately. And, my children, who never had a normal “aunt” relationship, fell in love with her too. My only regret is that we, all of us, didn’t meet sooner. She has a daughter, Rachel, who was an Irish dancer as a teenager. How's that for genes?? And, Mary insists that she and Kincaid are two peas in a pod.
During the week Mary was here, we skyped with Jeannie and met her husband, T Scott and beautiful daughter, Emerson. Arden and Kincaid joined in that conversation too and we all shared some hearty laughs and agreed to make plans to come see Jeannie sometime soon. Hopefully, Kent will be able to join us so we can all be together.
It’s really hard to underscore how difficult the past couple of years have been beginning with my mom’s passing, Allen’s two craniotomies and the messy estrangement from my birth mother. It has been almost unbearable, all told.
Mary, all by herself, has made the nightmare I’ve been through with both birth parents, worth it. I’d willingly go through it all again, just to come out on this side with her by my side. I have found a home in her whose foundation is rock solid. I expect I’ll feel the same way about Kent and Jeannie, once we’ve had a chance to properly get to know one another. They are both fine people and have values I admire and respect. And, all four of us share being given up for adoption. We have so much to build on going forward, in adding to the patchwork of our identities, with our singular traits and those we share.
Each of them has helped to breathe new meaning into my life.
Sometimes, sitting across from people who love us, with food on the table and laugher in the air, belonging is easy.
I am wading deep waters trying to get home
Lord I am wading deep waters trying to get home
I am wading deep waters
Wading deep waters
Wading deep waters trying to get home
I am climbing high mountains trying to get home
Lord I am climbing high mountains trying to get home
Lore I am climbing high mountains
Climbing high mountains
Climbing high mounts trying to get home